Brokedown Palace

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Starring: Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Pullman, Daniel Lapaine, Lou Diamond Phillips.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, drug related material and some violent content.

Review by Matt Heffernan
August 13, 1999

After Lake Placid, I wasn't terribly thrilled to see another Bill Pullman movie. He hasn't exactly been on a roll. What can you say about a career that artistically peaked with Spaceballs? He managed to redeem himself a little this weekend.

Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale play Alice and Darlene, two high school grads who take a trip to Thailand for eleven days. They told their families that they were going to Hawaii, but they wanted a taste of freedom before Darlene heads to college in the fall. After all, "Thai" means "freedom". They meet an Australian man there named Nick Parks (Daniel Lapaine). He and Darlene have a little fling, and he even goes after Alice, without much success. He travels around Asia, working for a software company, and he invites Alice and Darlene to follow him to Hong Kong on a later flight.

At the airport, the girls are stopped at the gate, and the authorities find a large amount of heroin in Alice's backpack. Now they must go to a Thai prison, where they have little chance of getting out. Drug smuggling is a very serious offense, and they lose their first trial. They contact Hank Greene (Pullman), an American lawyer working in Bangkok, by sending him a cassette with a recorded message (if they had just sent him a letter, the film couldn't be narrated by Alice). Greene uses his knowledge of the system, and the cooperation of a DEA official (Lou Diamond Phillips), to try to get them free.

Brokedown Palace is a good effort from director Jonathan Kaplan, who also directed The Accused and Night Call Nurses (how's that for a range?). When the girls first arrive in Bangkok, he uses the location to draw some great contrasts between the slums and the palaces. It almost starts out like a travel film, and then sort of ends up like a women's prison movie (I guess he can't escape his past). Luckily, he doesn't take an exploitational approach to the prison, but he doesn't fully capture the harshness, either. We can see that it's no picnic, but the pain (both physical and emotional) that the girls are going through isn't fully projected.

The story move along fairly quickly, and there is some tension built around the fates of the girls. The film is about ten minutes overlong, but it doesn't become boring. I did eventually care about what happened to them, but there was hardly any emotional investment otherwise.

This year, Pullman makes his directorial debut with a remake of The Virginian. This will be the fifth film made of the Owen Wister novel. This could be the start of a career upswing, or maybe it will just set him up for dismal failure. I don't care either way, as long as he doesn't remake Independence Day.

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Brokedown Palace (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan